Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”, Explained

By Rayiah Ross

Childish Gambino (real name, Donald Glover) left viewers deeply in thought with the release of his new single, This Is America, and its accompanying music video. The video is loaded with images of African American oppression and gun violence, while staying predominantly upbeat. This Is America is set entirely in a drab warehouse, which some viewers interpreted as the country’s foundation, built on systemic white supremacy and oppression. Gambino is featured shirtless, donning a gold chain necklace, and trousers. His look appears to be inspired by the late Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, human rights activist, and political maverick Some suggested Childish Gambino’s look was a nod to the late Richard Pryor, the legendary comedian and social critic. Others noted the similarities between his pants and a Confederate soldier’s uniform.

One of the most talked about moments is Glovers video is a scene in which Glover points a gun at an African American guitar player- with a similar appearance of Trayvon Martin’s father- head with a pose similar to the Jim Crow political cartoons. Justin Simien, The “Dear White People” creator praised Glover’s work and analyzed the references to black culture that many audiences probably missed on twitter. “. . . Jim Crow, who Gambino embodies with a combination of popular dance memes sporadically interrupted with bug eyes. . . . Jim Crow began as one of the first fits of white American culture to address its former African slaves (and their descendants) at all. A minstrelsy mainstay played by white men in black face, and sometimes by black men in black face. ‘We just want the money.’”

Gambino’s use of guns in the video is a nerve wracking and undeniable raw detail. Each time Gambino fires a gun in, he hands it off to someone who whisks it away in a red cloth. Viewers interpreted these scenes as a reference to Americans’ willingness to protect gun rights over people, despite the country’s alarmingly high rates of gun violence. One of the most disturbing scenes in This Is America features an all-black church choir getting shot up with an assault-style rifle. The massacre appears to be a reference to the 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a white gunman killed nine black churchgoers.

In one scene, black teenagers use their phones to record the chaos unfolding below, as their mouths appear to be covered by a white material. Some viewers believed this to be a reference to the rise of viral videos of police brutality and racial encounters to overcome the metaphorical muzzling of black people in a white supremacist system. “Kids are seen recording everything on their phones, referencing the use of livestreams in police shootings as a means of documenting and sharing the truth,” tweeted @thelocalemo. “Gambino’s lyrics state, ‘this is a celly, that’s a tool.’”

Finally, Gambino uses a eerie vibe and visual to explain -what viewers believe to be- “The Sunken Place.” The scene reminded many viewers of “the Sunken Place” seen in the 2017 film, Get Out, the mental space where the main character Chris goes after he’s been brainwashed, unable to control his body. “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized,” Jordan Peele, the movie’s director, explained on Twitter in March 2017. “No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.”

There are many other things in Gambino’s video that are up for interpretation. Honestly, I think that’s the point of this video. Gambino’s video is very politically charged and is very important for viewers to see. Gambino does an amazing job of displaying the vivid image of what America is.

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